Lions aim for winning streak against Jags
Coming off a playoff run in 2011, you couldn't blame backers of the Detroit Lions for heading into this year's September feeling like big things were imminent.
As of November, however, it's still not quite worked out.
The visiting Lions get another chance to post back-to-back victories for the first time on Sunday, when they head to Jacksonville to visit the Jaguars while aiming to send the hosts to a fifth straight loss.
Detroit won five in a row to begin last season and was 6-2 at the halfway mark en route to a 10-6 run that yielded a first postseason berth since 1999.
The Lions of 2012 are the NFL's second-best with 407.6 yards per game on offense, but they'd scored only one first-half touchdown in six games before breaking out for a pair last week against Seattle. Nonetheless, the game went to the final minutes and only resulted in a victory when Matthew Stafford connected with Titus Young from a yard away with 20 seconds left.
Detroit's three wins have each been nail-biters, coming by a composite 11- point margin. Two of the triumphs were sealed in the last minute. One came in overtime.
"That's life in the NFL," coach Jim Schwartz said. "You have to live in the moment. You have to win that game. You have to persevere through things."
Schwartz's team opened with a victory against St. Louis, finished the initial month with three straight losses and went two of three in October. The Lions will visit Minnesota next week before a three-game homestand against Green Bay, Houston and Indianapolis.
"You want to keep clawing away to try to get even," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "We can take steps forward."
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson was a standout player in the franchise's standout season last year -- racking up career-bests with 96 catches, 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns -- but he's scored just once this season and has passed 100 yards three times in seven games.
Only six catches and 80 yards have come in the last two games, and he's added to the team's season total of 22 drops.
"I don't think it has anything to do with how many balls he gets," Schwartz said. "He knows football. He just wants to win. Any player in our locker room will sacrifice personal performance for a win."
In Johnson's downtime, Young has risen -- hauling in 15 passes for 181 yards and two scores in the last two games against the Seahawks and Chicago Bears.
Johnson caught two passes for 92 yards against Jacksonville in 2008, in a 38-14 Detroit loss during its historic 0-16 season under Rod Marinelli. The Lions have lost three straight to the Jaguars, twice in Jacksonville. But the Jaguars are winless in three home contests this season, falling to Houston, Cincinnati and Chicago by a combined 95-20 score.
In two road games since a Week 6 bye, they're 0-2 but have kept it close in 26-23 and 24-15 losses at Oakland and Green Bay, respectively. They were double-digit underdogs against the Packers without absent running back Maurice Jones-Drew, but racked up 341 total yards -- more than 100 better than their season average. Jacksonville held the Green Bay offense to a season-low 238 total yards.
Jones-Drew will miss this week as well.
His replacement, Rashad Jennings, has 103 yards on 38 carries in two games.
Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw for 303 yards and a TD, his high yardage watermark for the season. Still, he was the unintended topic of early week rumors, when a local television station indicated the team was interested in acquiring New York Jets backup Tim Tebow, a Jacksonville native, before Thursday's 4 p.m. ET trade deadline.
Both the Jaguars and Jets have denied talks have taken place.
Jacksonville did deal fourth-year receiver Mike Thomas to Detroit on Tuesday for a draft pick. Thomas had 13 receptions for 80 yards this season before the trade.
Another of Gabbert's lingering targets, Cecil Shorts, has 12 receptions for 195 yards and a TD in those two games.
"If we continue to progress in certain things that we're doing, that we know we're capable of doing, I think wins will come with it," Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey said.
While competitive, the Jaguars nonetheless managed to make decisive mistakes against Green Bay, dropping nine passes, fumbling in the red zone and seeing a blocked punt blocked returned for a score.
"The things that are not allowing us to win these games when we have chances, it's got to stop," Mularkey said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Slowing down the Lions over the past few years has largely been a product of limiting the aforementioned Johnson, who's been a threat --- but not as much of a productive one -- so far in 2012.
Previous opponents this season have keyed specifically on him with safeties and other dedicated schemes. It's forced Detroit to get its points through field-long drives, rather than quick-strike big plays. A side benefit has been the emergence of Young, who may convince teams to change things up going forward.
The Jaguars are home and they've played competitively in two recent losses at Oakland and Green Bay, but it's still hard to construct a case in which they would control the game from start to finish and emerge its winner. It more likely would take an off effort from the Lions to give the hosts a shred of possibility, but it may be more likely that this will be a platform for Johnson to reestablish himself as an NFL force.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 28, Jaguars 14